Newly-established in late 2016, TMS Law Firm (which stands for Taha, Moussa and El Sabahi) is already making waves in Egypt’s legal sector. Co-Founders Dr. Khaled Moussa, Mr. Ehab Taha and Mr. Amr El Sabahi have recently been joined by Dr. Mohamed Hafez as the Head of Dispute Resolution.
Mr. Taha, Mr. El Sabahi and Dr. Hafez talk to Law Today about the vision behind TMS and the innovations the firm is bringing to Egypt’s legal sector.
LT: Could you give an overview of your individual career trajectories and what led you to the point of starting TMS law firm?
Ehab Taha: I graduated from the Faculty of Law, Cairo University English Department, in 1999 and spent five years at El Kamel law firm followed by another five at Baker & McKenzie. Then I went on my own path, establishing my first firm with Ayman Nour: Nour & Taha, which was later acquired by El Tamimi. I then went on to establish TMS Law Firm. My areas of expertise are general corporate, mergers & acquisitions and capital markets.
I’ve been lucky enough to sometimes be in the right place at the right time. During the economic boom between 2003 and 2008, I was involved in M&A and capital market transactions. Egypt was not actually heavily impacted by that economic crisis and up until the Egyptian revolution in 2011, things were very busy; we got exposure in cross border transactions, mega acquisitions, IPOs – including the Talaat Mustafa IPO, one of the biggest IPOs to take place in the Egyptian market. I was involved with many of the big financial institutions, which always brought great opportunities and experience.
Amr El Sabahi: For Dr. Khaled Moussa, the same kind of expertise as Ehab applies. He graduated from the English law school in 2000, just as I did, and joined Ibrachy law firm. He then became a Counsellor with the State Council and moved to Baker & McKenzie in 2004 to become a Partner, then left in October 2016 to form TMS with Ehab and me. He holds a PhD in law and is specialised in M&A, corporate and commercial law and labour and civil law.
I graduated from the English law school in the year 2000. I hold a Master’s degree in International Business Law from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I have worked for a number of law firms, including Trowers & Hamlins and Baker & McKenzie. For the past eight years I have been specialised in telecommunications, media and technology (TMT). I head the TMT department at TMS and in the past I have headed the legal departments of Mobinil, Vodafone and Orange.
Dr. Mohamed Hafez: I graduated from the Faculty of Law, Cairo University English Department, in 2003. After a year working in Zaki Hashem & Partners I went to London to do my LLM. I did a dual specialisation in Commercial Corporate Law and International Commercial Arbitration. My early career included work with Professor Martin Hunter from King’s College University, working as the Assistant to the Director of CRCICA, and working in Paris at the International Chamber of Commerce and the International Court of Arbitration. I then embarked on my PhD at the University of Basel in Switzerland, conducting my thesis on the Global Sales Law project.
After that I worked at Zaki Hashem & Partners as a Senior Associate in the Arbitration department for six years, representing clients, advising, drafting submissions. During that time I was working with Amr El Sabahi while he was still the Head of Legal for Vodafone and we got to know each other and became friends. After the establishment of TMS, he proposed that I come and lead the arbitration department here.
LT: What were your principal goals and motivations in starting TMS?
ET: One really conceptual or philosophical aspect to starting TMS, which we discussed a lot, was how big an approach we should take in investing, in everything from our office space to the calibre of our associates. After some discussions we came to what I believe is the right conclusion – that we should invest big in terms of dreams, money and time, because this enables us to get to where we are entitled to be and to get there quickly. It might be a bit hectic but our vision is to go regional within the next five years.
AS: Initially it was Dr. Khaled and I who wanted to form this law firm but I had it in mind to target Ehab from day one. He came on board and quickly became one of the Founders of the firm. I’m glad that TMS has managed to take shape so quickly and I hope for the best for it, in both the near and distant future. With Dr. Mohamed now joining us, I feel we are on the right track and growing in the right direction.
ET: One of the main elements that made us all join forces was the joint vision of starting something a bit different from what we already have in the market. We are a fresh young firm that gives good service to all types of client – whether multinationals, regional and local players, SMEs or start-ups. In terms of institution building, I hope this means that our people will come to work excited and that this drive will help us to make a positive difference in a very short time.
AS: When it comes to thinking, understanding and approaching clients, when you have worked in an in-house environment you acquire certain commercial skills and learn how to apply them, enabling you to get the work done successfully and efficiently. I can claim this for myself in TMT because I have been working in that area for many years. But to see others doing such a great job in different specialities – and to see young associates and fresh graduates coming up with innovative ways to serve our clients – is really one of the things that makes you feel excited to go to work every day.
I don’t think this is typical or conventional in terms of a legal service. I believe this is one of our key strengths, and the appreciation we are receiving from our clients is indicative of this. We also tailor our services according to the aspirations and needs of our clients in a way that I believe is flexible, resilient and quite unique.
MH: For me, the prospect of joining TMS seemed like a very good opportunity for a number of reasons, mostly because there has been a big shift in the arbitration industry in the last few years. The market has become very diverse and things have become very expensive. This means that there is a need for a younger and fresher approach; it is no longer the case that arbitration consists merely of big cases for big firms.
From my own experience, I could see that this move offered an opportunity to do things differently: to be part of a dynamic market, to speak at conferences, to meet a range of people, to take on bigger challenges, get clients and to become recognised, which is something that we all look forward to. Even for the younger generation, this is a trend that I expect they will also follow. You go to big law firm to learn and to get experience and in turn you share this with younger generations as part of the growth and development cycle.
ET: Just one month after establishing TMS, we were in talks with Dr. Mohamed Hafez about the prospect of him heading up our Dispute Resolution department. This shows the trend we are taking as we expand. Currently we are in talks with several candidates to establish and head our Finance department. We are keen to grow extremely fast, to cover all areas and to give a full-fledged service to our clients.
I believe that we are one of the only (if not the only) firms with a specialised TMT department in the Egyptian market. We are providing for a sector that is huge and growing in Egypt. This country has also been ranked one of best for start-ups and of course many start-ups are related to technology. All the people working in these areas will need either specialised TMT advice or specialised corporate advice.
AS: Some challenges, such as regulatory challenges, require a combination of the different departments: the TMT side and the corporate side. We are not just a TMT specialised firm, so if a client has regulatory challenges, of which there may be many as this is an evolving field, it would require a lot of cooperation between our different departments. This is in the best interest of our clients.
LT: What would you say are the firm’s priorities as a legal entity?
AS: We seek to offer a comprehensive service to our clients in an innovative way. One of the things we have noticed is that some clients don’t have an adequate legal in-house department so we have introduced a virtual legal in-house department, where we cater to the needs of our clients as if we were an in-house counsel. Either we provide the full range of services to a client or we complement their existing services, according to their need.
Another key innovation, from our perspective, is our introduction of a specialised TMT department, which we have established to meet a pressing need. Law firms generally are looking for new ways of serving clients and fortunately, we have been capable of meeting these needs so far. We combine something I don’t believe you get to see lot of – very solid private practice experience with very solid in-house experience. This comprehensive understanding is one of the key elements that allows us to provide that kind of innovation.
ET: We are very aware that whomever is leading the legal market is always trying to widen the gap between themselves and fresh new competition. The good thing about TMS is that because of the experience and connections of the partners, we have been able to hit the ground running; clearly we want to shorten that gap. You will definitely see the TMS name coming up frequently this year and in years to come. We have been assigned to a lot of acquisition and divestment transactions in the market, a lot of restructuring of multinational groups, so our presence in the market is rapidly growing.
LT: What are the challenges and opportunities in Egypt’s legal sector and ecosystem that need to be taken into account when undertaking a new venture like founding your own law firm?
MH: There is always a lot of competition and so you need to focus on staying committed to your clients. Word of mouth from one client to another is very important: if your clients say you are giving a lot of focus, you are on time, you are diligent, your prices are reasonable, that in itself allows you to stand out from the competition and gain credibility. The drive to get new clients and offer something unique allows you to move forward and bypass challenges in the market.
ET: On the macro level, in the Egyptian legal sector there is a lot of new legislation. These are changing times, similar to what happened in the early 1980s, and this is always a challenge. Even when a new law has not yet been issued but is in the pipeline, you need to be aware of anything that may change the ecosystem, because this affects the client’s business. The big issue at the moment is the delay in the new Investment law, which ultimately is delaying money coming into Egypt. Once we stabilise as a country with a fixed investment, fiscal and tax regime, I think that Egypt has all possible potential to be a main investment hub within the MENA region.
AS: When it comes to the TMT sector, we will soon have new laws giving regulation to currently unregulated businesses and fields. There will be new structures for e-commerce and social networks, due to be enacted this parliamentary season. This has an impact on the legal advice you give to a client, as you have to highlight the fact that everything we are dealing with could change in the near future. Everything will be better after passing through this phase of legislative uncertainty, because clarification brings a measure of stability.
LT: How do you hope to see Egyptian legal ecosystem grow and develop in the coming period?
ET: The problem of the legal ecosystem now is that there are many small new firms opening and the big international players are also looking into the Egyptian market. The legal service market will become very competitive and we might see the acquisition of existing firms by big regional or international firms trying to come into the market; we have already seen this trend in the Gulf.
Something I find problematic within several of the big players in the Egyptian corporate legal market is that you don’t see a change in leadership or real continuity in terms of institution building. I think we will see the breaking up of some of these big firms when their leaders step down or resign.
We are trying to build a firm based on principles and true partnership, knowing that the partners themselves will change with time.
AS: This was the intention and vision from day one. Even when we chose the name, the selection of TMS was not about us but about the institution. We don’t fear competition, so whatever is healthy for the legal environment in Egypt would be welcomed by us. But I would say that for any venture seeking to replicate this model, it is crucial to employ the same resources and expertise. We are able to provide innovative solutions to our clients due to the experience we have had in our individual and combined careers. Our advice to anyone planning to start their own firm would be to build on what you have. Do not offer something you are not capable of; don’t disappoint your clients.
ET: Having competitors gives a sense of achievement and forces you to come up with more innovative solutions. Looking at the market, some of our competitors may rely on our precedents and vice versa. So competition is always healthy for the market.
MH: In dispute resolution, I hope to see the market evolve in a more efficient way. It is important to have the skill of being able to sit with each client and understand what they need. If you can negotiate a settlement this is good because it can save time and resources, but you then need to know how to get the best for your client. I would consider it a big success to see this trend growing in the Egyptian market in years to come.